For the second consecutive season the Denver Broncos watched all they had done in a 13-3 season get shoved aside and stuffed out of sight by an stunning end to their football year.
In 2012 it was the shocking double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens and this time it was a mauling at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. After several looks at the video and discussions with NFL pro personnel executives from both conferences, here is a report card for the 2013 team.
There is no grading curve. A's, as always, are far more difficult to earn than a Pro Bowl slot. Grades were awarded to the players on the Broncos' season-ending, 53-man roster and most of the starters who suffered season-ending injuries after playing at least four games.
It is, however, not a Super Bowl grade. The title-game meltdown is in there, but the body of work goes from the season-opener to what transpired in MetLife Stadium.
Today it’s the special teams’ units as well as the starters who finished out the season on injured reserve.
A - Consistently dominant. What some personnel executives give a "blue" rating, a nod to veteran personnel evaluator Mike Giddings, a former Broncos assistant coach.
B - Productive starter/key situational player who could fit smoothly into almost any lineup in the league.
C - Did the job asked of him with consistency.
D - Substandard. Salary and playing time didn't match output.
PNP - Practice but not much play.
Aaron Brewer: B
In his second season as the long-snapper, he was consistent in both placement and velocity of snaps. He’s never a concern.
With a record-setting offense scoring touchdowns most of the time, he punted a career-low 65 times this past season. Still considered around the league as one of the better players at the position, but finished with a career-low 44.5 gross yards per punt and did suffer the first blocked punt of his career in regular-season finale in Oakland after an assignment was missed up front.
Matt Prater: A-
Led the league in touchbacks on kickoffs, as you would expect from somebody with his leg strength playing half of his games at altitude, missed just one kick all season and set NFL record with 64-yard field goal on frigid day against the Titans.
Trindon Holliday: C-
After a quality start with two touchdown returns in the season’s first four games, his season dissolved into some questionable choices with the ball as well as some issues hanging on to it. He bobbled seven kickoffs or punts over the last 10 games of regular season.
Ryan Clady: A
He played in just two games, but the Broncos’ issues in pass protection, which cropped up against the more physical fronts they faced, including the Seattle Seahawks’, would have been far easier to deal with had he been in the lineup. His return is significant in what the Broncos should be able to do on offense in ‘14.
Chris Harris: A-
Versatile, hard-nosed, savvy player who simply competes harder than most others on every snap and is unafraid to take on any matchup. Coming off ACL surgery, he’s going to need some time to resume his duties on the team’s defense.
Von Miller: B-
He simply has to be an A player for this team on the field, in the locker room, and in how he prepares. He showed flashes of his athleticism when he returned from his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but many personnel executives believe he simply tried to play too heavy in his return and became more of a bull rusher than a consistently effective edge player. And he’s coming off ACL surgery and some with the team are looking, with a raised eyebrow, at his post-Super Bowl jaunt to try to get into the Seahawks’ victory party.
Rahim Moore: C+
A 10-game starter before a lower leg injury put him on injured reserve. The Broncos had designated him for return in case he would have been available for the playoffs, but he never returned to practice. He was headed for his best overall season at the time of his injury.
Kevin Vickerson: B-
Suffered season-ending hip injury in 11th game (at New England). When paired with Terrance Knighton in the middle, the two were an effective early-down combination at defensive tackle. Vickerson was also starting to be more disruptive in pass-rush situations at the time of his injury. He was also, however, the team’s most penalized player at the time of injury -- 10 penalties in 11 games, including two for unnecessary roughness and two for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sylvester Williams is going to play more, not less, moving forward, but if Vickerson returns healthy in ’14, the Broncos will have just the kind of interior depth they want.
Derek Wolfe: C
His season ended after he suffered seizure-like symptoms on the team’s bus ride to the airport in late November just before the Dec. 1 game in Kansas City. Before the incident, however, Wolfe often appeared frustrated on the field and did not have more than two tackles in any game. He lost some weight during his absence and the Broncos, after initially bringing him back to practice on Christmas, kept him off the field the rest of the way.